Conserving biodiversity: a 2030 story

As today is International Day for Biological Diversity it is a good time to reflect upon the progress we’ve made in conserving species, the numerous environmental pressures that threaten biodiversity, and ways forward to protect it. As the Aichi Biodiversity Targets are due to expire in 2020 international policy dedicated to biodiversity and conservation will continue under the auspices of the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Providing thoughtful commentary on how to move forward in conserving biodiversity post-2020, we have produced a series of scenarios that address Goal 15: Life on Land and the Aichi Targets. They focus on:

  • Preventing species extinctions
  • Tools for predicting species distribution
  • Prioritisting species for conservation planning
  • The role of citizen science

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We examined 885 European cities’ plans to tackle climate change – here’s what we found

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Oliver Heidrich, Newcastle University and Diana Reckien, University of Twente

Around the world, cities endeavour to cut greenhouse gas emissions, while adapting to the threats – and opportunities – presented by climate change. It’s no easy task, but the first step is to make a plan outlining how to meet the targets set out in the Paris Agreement, and help limit the world’s mean temperature rise to less than two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

About 74% of Europe’s population lives in cities, and urban settlements account for 60-80% of carbon emissions – so it makes sense to plan at an urban level. Working to meet carbon reduction targets can also reduce local pollution and increase energy efficiency – which benefits both businesses and residents.

But it’s just as important for cities to adapt to climate change – even if the human race were to cut emissions entirely, we would still be facing the extreme effects of climate change for decades to come, because of the increased carbon input that has already taken place since the industrial revolution.

In the most comprehensive survey to date, we collaborated with 30 researchers across Europe to investigate the availability and content of local climate plans for 885 European cities, across all 28 EU member states. The inventory provides a big-picture overview of where EU cities stand, in terms of mitigating and adapting to climate change. Continue reading

British pulses and legumes for sustainable, healthy diets

Dr Diogo Souza Monteiro, Senior Lecturer in Agribusiness Management, School of Natural & Environmental Sciences

Pulses are grain legumes that serve as the basis of healthy meals throughout the world. Historically legumes and pulses were an important source of proteins for both food and animal feed. In India, the Middle East and Mediterranean countries they are still an important source of protein and key ingredients for traditional dishes. However, in the UK the consumption of these products has been in steady decline in the past two decades. Yet peas, beans and many other legumes can be successfully produced in the UK for both animal feed and, more importantly, as food.

I have worked with the pulses industry in the UK on a project investigating alternative sources of protein for a growing global population. With colleagues I wrote a report for the Processors and Growers Research Organisation (PGRO) on how to develop British pulses for food consumer markets. The report is divided into three parts:

  • health benefits and claims on pulse products
  • evidence for environmental benefits of introducing pulses in crop rotations
  • market opportunities for pulse based products in the British market

Legumes are one of the most sustainable sources of protein. They have an outstanding nutritional value and therefore are increasingly recommended as part of a heathy diet.  While in wealthier countries, such as the UK, normally the population has sufficient protein intake. There are, however, some groups, namely the elderly, that are not consuming their recommended daily intake. This was reported in a recent review paper published in the journal Nutrients. Legumes increase satiety, and therefore are being used in weight management programs. Also they are important sources of fibre and can be used to manage diabetes. Continue reading

Universities, academics and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development

Dr Graham Long

Universities, globally, have a unique place in accelerating implementation of the SDGs, even as they face uneven contexts and challenges. They can play a key role in engaging youth as a force for change, and in helping to generate the knowledge, analysis and expertise needed to understand and implement the SDGs as a universal and interlinked agenda. Some recent resources and initiatives have been launched to guide universities in these areas – notably the Sustainable Development Solutions Network’s (SDSN) Guide for Universities, and the SDG Accord, an initiative to encourage universities and academics (and institutions of further education too) to publicly commit to the SDGs. Universities are talking about SDGs, too – from the Higher Education Sustainability Initiative (HESI) event on the final day of the 2017 High Level Political Forum, to my own university’s conference on this two weeks ago.

Much has been said about universities and the SDGs, but there is little research around what role academics see for themselves. To address this gap here, I draw on the preliminary findings of research I recently conducted with the help of Ana Flamind, Louise Luxton, and Dani Morgan at Newcastle University. We contacted 400 academics in developing countries to ask them about the SDGs in the context of their countries’ Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs) this summer, receiving 87 responses. In this blog I want to highlight three key messages around SDGs and academics, linking the findings from this specific research to the wider picture around the role of universities.

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New funding for peat restoration is good news for biodiversity and people

Prof Mark Reed

peatland

UK peatlands are wild, often remote places. These aren’t the fields and farms that many town dwellers associate with the British countryside, rather areas of bog and mire that may be seldom visited except, perhaps, by the committed enthusiast. Not all look as attractive as they might — all too often peat bogs have suffered extensive damage, either through extraction of material for gardening products or attempts to drain the land for agricultural purposes. But these are important places, providing not only iconic and beautiful habitats for other species, but also vital resources for our own survival.

What have peat bogs got to offer? Our supplies of clean drinking water depend on rainfall in peatlands and they can also be important in mitigating flooding , slowing down the flow of water on its way to urban areas. Highly specialised species that are often rare, threatened or declining live, feed and breed in peatland habitats.  From the bog hoverfly to the golden plover and greenshank, many species make their home here.

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Climate scientists and farmers working together to tackle water security in South Asia

Dr Lisa Bunclark

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World Water Day is about taking action to tackle the global water crisis and ensuring adequate water for food production is another important aspect of water security. Researchers at Newcastle University are currently working on a project that will help to ensure that small holder farmers in South Asia have enough water for their crops into the future.

The work of Professor Hayley Fowler and Dr Nathan Forsythe, builds upon multiple collaborative initiatives with research institutes in South Asia, and focuses on finding grassroots-scale solutions to mitigate drought impacts on local communities and build resilience to climate change impacts. The project looks at ways to mainstream climate adaptation in three countries across South Asia with case study villages in contexts such as the rural areas of Nainital district in Uttarakhand state, India. Similar focus areas will be selected in Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

The project focuses on translation of sophisticated climate model outputs into pragmatically useful “climate services” that help communities prepare for climate change, and understand its effects on crop yields at the local level. Cropping simulations generated from large-scale regional climate models will be refined based on information generated by the smallholder farmers themselves.

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